Most of us might not know what to call the small bits of plastic, but we know what to call it when we see these pieces — pollution. There’s a big, nauseating mess and no one responsible is paying enough attention and taking action.
They’re nurdles, pre-production pellets used by companies for packaging as an economical method to move large amounts of plastic to end-use manufacturers across the Gulf of Mexico and oceans away. The Gulf has one of the highest concentrations of plastic pollution in the world, according to Mark Benfield, an oceanographer and plastic pollution expert at LSU’s School for the Coast & Environment.
This marine plastic pollution is a big issue in our region, perhaps more than other places where there are nurdles, because there’s so many of them traveling our waterways.
Just weeks ago, cargo ship CMA CGM Bianca spilled millions or billions of nurdles in the mighty Mississippi River around New Orleans. They started floating around, and many found their way onto both banks of the river. No shipping company, agency or operation has been held responsible. No fines have been issued. No penalties have been levied. No one has been asked, or told, to clean up the mess.
Somehow on Aug. 2, the ship broke from its Napoleon Avenue Wharf moorings during a thunderstorm, causing a big container of nurdles to spill out of sacks into the river waters. For whatever reason, port officials decided, oh well, the nurdles were “irretrievable.” Eventually, Benfield told The Advocate, the nurdles would simply float and flow out to sea where some of them would be eaten by fish and other marine life.
Environmental activist Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a group opposed to the Formosa complex, finds it perplexing that this spill would happen without any action to fix the problem as she and Kate McIntosh await decisions stemming from a pollution awareness stunt. They left a file box full of the plastic pellets on the Baton Rouge doorstep of Greg Bowser, a lobbyist for the chemical industry. The nurdles were found in Texas bays near a plastic manufacturing facility owned by Formosa Plastics. Rolfes was booked with terrorizing, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. McIntosh was booked with principal to terrorizing.
Depositing something like that at the home of someone with whom you disagree is a bit much but the charges are out of proportion for the alleged crime. Still, they and Benfield have a point about the negative impact nurdles are having on our environment.
Time is passing, but perhaps it’s not too late for port officials, the Coast Guard or some responsible agency to hold someone accountable and make them clean up what’s left.